Introducing the ‘whatta night’ rule of three

April 21, 2015 is an important date in Washington sports history. At first glance, it may not seem significant. You may not remember where you were on this day, and you may not even remember what took place, but it was a great day for Washington, D.C. sports.

That day, the Capitals, Wizards and Nationals all won games on the same day. The Capitals and Wizards were locked into First Round playoff battles while the Nationals were getting their 2015 season started. The Caps defeated the New York Islanders 2-1 in Game 4 of their First Round series thanks to a Nicklas Backstrom overtime goal. With the series now knotted at 2-2, the Caps would go on to advance in seven games.

The Wizards, meanwhile, defeated the Toronto Raptors 117-106 to give themselves a 2-0 series lead. The Wizards went on to sweep the Raptors and advance to face the top-seeded Atlanta Hawks in the Second Round.

The Nationals, while playing just their 14th game of the season instead of a high-stakes playoff matchup, finished in similar fashion as the Capitals did. Playing the St. Louis Cardinals, the scoreline was exactly the same (2-1) as was the means of victory: a walk-off score after regulation ended. Of course, there’s no extra time in baseball, just extra innings, but it was Yunel Escobar’s solo shot in the 10th inning that sealed the win for the Nats, bringing their record to 7-7 on the year.

The Caps and Wizards would both lose in the following round, and the Nats failed to make the postseason that year, but Apr. 21 remains a seminal moment in recent DC sports history, if for nothing else than a single tweet that would help name the phenomenon of three teams winning games on the same day.

This simple five-year-old tweet from a random Maryland middle schooler seemingly deserves no special attention. However, this 33 character message coined the perfect phrase to describe this rare feat.

Had Ethan Reff, a good friend of mine since the seventh grade and now a student at the University of Maryland, written “what a night” instead, it would have been like any other celebratory tweet.

The fact that he so inexplicably blended “what a” together into one word and added an extra ‘t’ so that it a.) contains the same number of syllables that it would normally, and b.) uses the same number of characters, is perfect. It neither makes the phrase shorter to say nor write/type out. But that unnecessary spelling makes all the difference.

“Whatta night” (pronounced “watt-uh”) has since turned into an inside phrase to describe when three DC teams win on the same day. This hat trick of wins still applies when the Washington Football Team is one of three to win, and it could even include other Washington teams such as the Mystics or DC United, but the natural “whatta night” includes just the Capitals, Nationals and Wizards.

“[Saying] ‘what a’ just wasn’t good enough,” Reff said when asked about the reasoning behind the spelling, “I think I was just excited after seeing my teams all win, like you never see that happen.”

While more traditionally used toward three wins on the same day, it can also be used to refer to any rule of three. For example, last weekend Juan Soto, Ilya Samsonov and Stephen Strasburg were all ruled out for varying periods of time. Three S-name players, all very important to their teams, made unavailable. I tried to voice the connection properly, but autocorrect got the best of me:

It should have said “whatta nightmare,” but the sentiment remains nonetheless.

So why do I bring all this up? Well, with the NBA, NHL and MLB all being suspended due to the ongoing pandemic, all three leagues will be playing at the same time through the summer. Baseball has already returned, but is now at risk of halting again, while NBA and NHL play officially resumes later this week.

The Capitals, Nationals and Wizards will all be playing at the same time, so the opportunity for a rare “whatta night” exists. The Wizards will likely only be playing eight games total this summer, so the chances are slim, but here are the dates to circle on your calendar.

August 9 (all times EST):

Wizards vs. Oklahoma City Thunder @ 12:30 pm

Nationals vs. Baltimore Orioles @ 12:35 pm

Capitals vs. Boston Bruins @ TBD

August 11:

Wizards vs. Milwaukee Bucks @ 9 pm

Nationals vs. New York Mets @ 7:10 pm

Capitals vs. TBD*

August 13:

Wizards vs. Boston Celtics @ TBD

Nationals vs. New York Mets @ 1:10 pm

Capitals vs. TBD*

Both Aug. 11 and 13 are uncertain, as the Capitals don’t have any games scheduled beyond their three-game round robin. The First Round will commence after Aug. 9, so it’s safe to assume that the Capitals will play on at least one of those two dates, but that has yet to be announced.

The first and only guaranteed opportunity is Aug. 9. Like all “whatta nights,” it’ll take a miracle, as the Bruins entered the stoppage as the best team in hockey, while the Thunder are just four games behind the second seed in the Western Conference. Even the Orioles, one of the worst teams in baseball, could score a win that night in this mess of a season.

Looking forward, the Wizards’ chances of winning against either the Bucks or Celtics put doubt into the possibility of a “whatta night.” Still, all it takes is some luck. The release of the NHL First Round schedule will be worth looking out for, to see if the 11th and 13th will be “whatta night” opportunities.

Plus, if the Wizards somehow sneak into the NBA playoffs, there will be more opportunities from that as well, so if you’ve lost all reason to hope the Wizards make the playoffs, make this the primary one.

Hopefully we have the opportunity to celebrate this rare occurrence in August, and you can add Reff’s “whatta night” to your own vernacular.

Cover Photo Credit: Peter Llewellyn/USATI; Bruce Bennett/Getty Images; Greg Fiume/Getty Images

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